A manufacturer of desktop 3D printers has designed a new cabinet to prevent existing printers from emitting potentially harmful nanoparticles into the atmosphere.
Leeds-based Kora 3D even suspended sales of its own printers for four years, only re-entering the market in the past few weeks, until a solution was found to stopping pollutants impacting air quality.
The firm has been helping the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigate 3D printer safety after parents and teachers at schools flagged up concerns with the agency about the use of Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printers generally.
Suspending sales of the printers for four years has cost the business a lot of money, managing director Steve Burrows said.
He told The Yorkshire Post that very early on in the testing process with the HSE it was evident to him that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nanoparticles were being emitted from all the desktop printers they were testing.
Mr Burrows said: “At that point I thought this could be a very big health issue in the future. I was under a non-disclosure agreement but I knew what was happening so we stopped selling 3D printers.
“It has cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds but morally it was the right thing to do. Subsequently, if health issues are apparent in the future, we can hold our heads high.”
There was also the danger of people suffering from burns and getting their fingers and hair trapped in 3D printers.
While the firm was helping the HSE investigate the problem, it was simultaneously working on a solution.
Mr Burrows said: “All we’ve done is apply common sense by creating a cabinet, which the 3D printer sits inside.
“It is lockable so there’s no access and it’s filtered to remove the nanoparticles. It just makes 3D printing safe.”
The cabinet is designed to house the majority of desktop 3D printers manufactured around the world, including Kora’s own machines.
Kora would like to see other manufacturers take on its cabinet to ensure people can use desktop 3D printers safely.
Mr Burrows said: “We’ve manufactured printers for six years, we haven’t sold them for four years.
“I’ve got three children at school and as soon as the safety cabinet was ready and about to launch, I donated a 3D printer with a safety cabinet to the school. My children can print in a safe environment. I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that before.”
The Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS) an advisory service supporting science and technology in schools, has now issued its own guidelines to try to protect staff and pupils using desktop 3D printers in schools, which has been endorsed by the HSE.
“You can’t have people potentially ingesting dangerous pollutants, which could have a long-term effect,” Mr Burrows said.
He added: “What we didn’t want is for everybody to be scared by 3D printing and worried. We wanted people to carry on enjoying using 3D printers.”
Kora has been developing FFF 3D printers since 2012. Mr Burrows also owns parent company Impex Parts, which has been supplying parts to the motor trade for over 20 years. The company turned its hand to 3D printing when a contact produced a part for Impex at short notice using the technology.
Impex looks for certainty
Impex Parts was established in 1998 and employs 36 staff. Of these, seven employees work on the Kora 3D brand.
Managing director Steve Burrows says the business has been making preparations for Britain’s departure from the European Union.
He said the business outlook was “very uncertain” but that “our business is slightly above last year”.
“There’s a lot of nervousness on our export side because they need to know what’s happening,” he added.
The company says it would like more “certainty”.